Tips for Driving in UAE → Safety & Road Rules

Driving anywhere in the Middle East can be a very interesting experience for travellers not used to such behaviour, but it does go to a new extreme in the UAE.

You may well be forgiven for thinking that driving lessons in the UAE primarily consist of watching Mad Max and Death Race 2000, and the statistics certainly reflect this. The UAE has the highest rate of road fatalities in the Middle East and one of the highest in the entire world, with road fatalities being a leading cause of death.

(Maybe drivers are too busy looking at the spectacular views?)

Driver behaviour in the UAE generally will add a lot of evidence you may have regarding the Death Race 2000 school of driving, with drivers typically engaging in all manner of extremely unsafe driving practices such as cutting in front of moving cars, changing lanes without indicating, speeding onto roundabouts at ludicrous speeds and then for extra fun, trying to exit from the inside lane.


A good thing to keep in mind is to pretend that every other driver isn't aware that any other cars exist, or if they do it's only a vague concept to worry about like a piece of paper on the road. Do not at any point expect any of the things you may be used to in western countries like indicating at any point, obeying the speed limit or drivers having any regard for their own personal safety or anyone else's.

Driving in the U.A.E - Is it Safe?

On the intercity roads, things get a little bit more drastic. While you don't have to worry about roundabouts, be aware that the inner lane is the one reserved for speeding luxury cars, and speeds of over 200kmh are not uncommon. At that speed, it is hard to break in time (assuming they bother) approaching a car doing a paltry 140kmh.

As an added bonus, intercity highways have unmarked speed bumps, shifting sands and sometimes, camels. Yes. Seriously. Camels.

If you plan on driving in the desert, camels become a bigger problem. You should make sure that you have a well maintained four wheel drive vehicle, adequate water, and a mobile phone with sufficient reception if you do plan on driving in the desert.

Pedestrians should take great care in the UAE as 25% of road fatalities are pedestrians. A pedestrian crossing is no guarantee that a driver will slow down, nor is a pedestrian on the road a guarantee that a driver will change their course or speed at all. Think what you read above about drivers in the UAE not really being aware that other cars exist, and double that theory for pedestrians.

Despite all of this (or perhaps because of this) road laws in the UAE are quite comprehensive. If you are involved in an accident you must leave the vehicle exactly where it is, even if that's in the middle of the road. Dubai is an exception, where intense traffic means that this would be a major road hazard.

If someone is injured in an accident, the person that caused the accident goes immediately to jail until the injured person is out of hospital. Should someone die in an accident, the person that caused the accident is liable for a US $55,000 dollar fine, called "Dhiyya" as compensation for the death.

Even minor accidents can involve lengthy litigation where the drivers are prevented from leaving the country, so be very careful when and how you drive, even if no one else is.

Road rage, even minor expressions of it such as rude gestures and swearing, actually can attract significant penalties. So be careful to remain calm at all times, even if you get the feeling that you're in Death Race 2000.

Digital cameras for registering traffic violations are very common on UAE roads, which you may find strange considering the general state of traffic, but nonetheless they are there. Primarily they are for speeding, but they also register other traffic violations.

Oddly, you cannot turn right at a red light unless there is a yield sign, which makes you wonder why they don't put a "Do not exit from inside lane on roundabout" sign up somewhere as well. Parking is prohibited where the curb is painted yellow and black and the use of front seat belts is mandatory.

Driving in the U.A.E - Zero Tolerance

The UAE has a zero limit for intoxication, and the penalties for driving under the influence of any alcohol at all can be severe (remember it's a Muslim country). People arrested for drink driving are generally sent to jail for many days while awaiting a court hearing, and are then subject to heavy fines, possible imprisonment, and for Muslims, even those of non-UAE origin, actual lashings. That's lashings in the corporal punishment sense of the word, not in the "they give you lashings of cake" sense of the word.

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  • guy that lives in dubai said

    true uae driving is the worst!

  • Leo said

    I have an experience of actually obtaining my driver's license here in UAE... :)

    I like to recall words of my driving instructor when we got out for real-life drive lesson in Mussafah (industrial area near Abu Dhabi): "Hey! Go crazy, forget speed limit! See - everybody goes crazy!"

    You are right, best tactics is to expect any of the surronding cars to "go crazy" any time.
    Also, sticking strictly to speed limit is dangerous on highways; going with the surrounding traffic's speed and keeping distance will bring you home in one piece, mostly.

    My experience shows that most dangerous are taxies, mini buses and any car with over-tinted windows :)

    Welcome to UAE!

  • Stanley said

    Agree with the authors opinion - UAE is a hard country for driving.
    Nevertheless, it's still worth it.
    Car rental is definitely not the worst option for travelling in UAE due to low prices for fuel and high prices for taxi (+a lot of taxi scammers).
    I've tried hiring a car during my trip to Abu Dhabi two years ago.
    So, there are few drawbacks self-driving in UAE in case you don't have enough driving experience (dense traffic and very strict driving laws for tourists)

    Nevertheless, everything was OK during my journey :)
    In case you want to save some extra money, it is convenient to use car rental comparison services like https://rental24h.com/uae to pick up the best car rental offer

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